The Island House: An abundance of history
By Jane Beathard
Just a few nautical miles from the legendary revelry of Put-in-Bay and South Bass Island, The Island House Inn in downtown Port Clinton offers quiet luxury and a glimpse of coastal Ohio history.
Located at 102 Madison St., the boutique hotel’s 38 newly renovated rooms combine modern conveniences like wireless Internet and Direct TV with the atmosphere of an 1800s inn.
“Our historic property is different from the chain hotels in the area,” said general manager Kathy Kopechak. “We want to treat people like they are at home.”
Visitors and guests can relax in the rustic 1812 Food & Spirits dining room and Rosie’s Bar & Grill, both located just off the lobby. Both are open weekdays 11:30 a.m. to 9 p.m and weekends 11:30 a.m. to 11 p.m. A brunch buffet is available in the dining room from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Sundays.
Constructed in 1886, The Island House replaced an inn of the same name, located on Second Street, that burned in 1882.
Ottawa County Sheriff Conrad Gernhard constructed and owned the new “gentlemen only” hotel, doubling the size of the original structure and relocating it to the heart of the growing city. He also added modern features (for the day) such as an indoor restroom on the first floor. Eventually, shared restrooms were added to each hotel floor.
Today, each air-conditioned room has a private bath, as well as a refrigerator and coffee maker.
Sheriff Gernhard was a colorful and enterprising figure in the early days of Ohio’s North Coast. A German immigrant, he was barely 18 and old enough to drink when he opened Port Clinton’s first saloon in 1870.
Elected sheriff nine years later, Gernhard collected delinquent taxes in Port Clinton. The job was financially beneficial in those days since Gernhard was allowed to pocket all interest and penalties from those delinquencies.
Earned profits allowed him to spend $25,000 to build and furnish The Island House, equipping it “with every modern convenience pertaining to the traveling public,” a local newspaper reported.
In the 126 years since Gernhard staked his fortunes at the corner of Perry and Madison streets, The Island House has hosted thousands, including politicians, Hollywood celebrities and sports figures.
Presidents Hayes and Garfield stayed while hunting and fishing in the area. Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall checked in while shopping for a custom-designed boat at nearby Mathews Boat Lines. Baseball legends Babe Ruth and Joe DiMaggio and their New York Yankee teammates made the hotel a regular stopover when traveling to play the Detroit Tigers in the 1920s, 1930s, 1940s and 1950s. Snapshots of those visits and other historic memorabilia now hang in the hotel’s lobby.
Closed in 2005, the hotel re-opened as a completely renovated condo-tel in 2008. It’s a unique concept that allows investors to purchase rooms for their own use or add them to the “rental pool” for sublet by the hotel staff.
“Fourteen of our 38 rooms are privately owned,” Kopechak said.
Guests can choose from standard king and queen rooms or king and apartment suites. A whirlpool suite is available.
November and December specials include weekend “Bed & Breakfast” and “Escape From It All” packages priced at $99 to $229, depending on the room. Kopechak said Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s Eve specials are also in the offing.
Reservations are available by calling (419) 734‑0100 or via the Internet at port-clinton-ohio-hotel.com.
Jane Beathard is a reporter with The Madison Press, in London, Ohio.